By Ben Andoni
An assault on a soccer referee by an Albanian MP — and his use of parliamentary immunity to skirt charges — has resulted in government efforts to remove such protections for parliament members.
Historically, immunity emerged as a tool to ensure the proper functioning of democratic state institutions, which could be hampered by accusations of criminal acts.
But members of the public and independent institutions charge that the abuse of immunity has damaged the democratic process in Albania.
Both the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the opposition Socialist Party (SP) stated their willingness to give up immunity protections at an institutional conference of MPs on February 14th of this year.
SP representatives asserted that removing such protections for MPs requires amending the constitution, but ruling DP Justice Minister Eduard Halimi stated that immunity for MPs could be lifted by a special decision of parliament, without touching the constitution.
Vjollca Mecaj, executive director of the Albanian Helsinki Committee, told SETimes that revising the immunity law is necessary because criminal prosecutions against deputies and ministers for illegal acts can’t be carried out.
“Firstly, immunity should protect an MP only for actions and attitudes related to his function as the representative of the people and not by every action that he can perform well beyond this context,” Meçaj said.
“Secondly, the MP should enjoy immunity in such a way that does not prevent investigations by the prosecution and does not hamper the functioning of parliament and its committees.”
Luan Omari, an expert on Albanian constitutional law, welcomed actions like the Democratic Party ministers’ move to voluntarily give up immunity. But Omari also questioned whether such actions are valid without a constitutional amendment.
“In the case of Italy and France, immunity has been abolished,” Omari told SETimes. “The Venice Commission has given an opinion which says it is better to remove the immunity, but this action needs constitutional ratification.”
“Due process must be included as must the immunity of judges in recent years, who are mostly accused of corruption. Immunity should be lifted only by constitutional changes.”
As raised during the February conference, different parts of Albanian society expressed different opinions about the removal or restriction of immunity.
According to Mecaj, citizens and the nation’s judges are more interested in restricting MP immunity, especially because those in the governing majority feel secure under such safeguards.
This is why opposition parties and their members pushed more vigorously for the removal of immunity and for limiting its scope. But opposition MPs also tend to flip-flop when they return to power, suggesting their intervention to limit or waive immunity is based on ulterior motives, Mecaj said.
For now, the political deadlock between the two main parties in parliament makes the prospect of constitutional changes distant.